Well, One Out of Three Ain’t Bad.
Blah blah too much text: scroll to the end for links to free books.
Many people think a day-in-the-life of a writer looks like this:
1000 wake up
1030 get out of bed
1045 pre-breakfast gin and tonic
1100 cooked breakfast
1130 angst and agony
1330 write 500 words, worry they’re not good enough
1430 still worrying
1500 pre-dinner beer
1515 second beer
1545 third beer
1600 lose track of time
My actual day doesn’t look much like this, except for the angst and agony part (all the voices in my head talk about me a lot behind my back). Since leaving working for The Man™, I’ve kept a fairly normal schedule — up at 0600, write until I hit mid-day or 3000 words, take time out for the gym, and then do “other tasks” (anything from business generation through to book publication and storefront wrangling).
So: if my life’s so normal, what’s this email about? Well, I was speaking with a friend recently, one who has been hit by anxiety. During our note-swapping and war stories (over second beer) they suggested I write down my story. The theory goes that my story might give you hope.
What’s This Hope Thing Anyway?
The reasons why I wanted to become a full-time writer weren’t about cash, or fame, or even glory. Working from a home office in New Zealand doesn’t come with a lot of cash, fame, or glory. What it does come with is a bunch of reduced stress.
Let’s rewind a little first. When I was working for The Man™, I was one of about 450 people in my company (world-wide) with my particular skills* (in a company employing around 180,000 people, including contingent staff). To say that what I did was in high demand is a bit of an understatement, and I spent a lot of time flying across Planet Earth. While this did provide a certain level of cash, fame, and even glory, what it also provided was constant jet lag, exhaustion, and eventually (in my case) health problems both physical and mental.
* I’m a huge liar and willing to do that for money.
I’m not telling you this because I want sympathy. I’m telling you that if this sounds a little like you (aside from being a mercenary perjurer) there’s some hope.
What Some People Will Tell You
When you’re overworked, there’s a thing where a lot of people are actually totally unsympathetic. This isn’t usually your friends (and if it is, fuck those guys), but rather the people where you work. If you look like you’re drowning, some environments will just load you up with more bricks, and then use those to build a bridge over your bloated corpse.
The world of today tells you that you need to toughen up, to push through, to … you get the idea. This is all wrong. Humans work best when allowed to experiment, when they have empowerment, when they can exercise creativity [customers usually they want their problem fixed, which often means being creative, a little bit bold, and coloring outside the lines]. It is the opposite of a stressed-out process-based worker. Humans aren’t at their best when trying to be efficient and/or work a hundred hours, and yet the typical response is to ask people for more hours, at a higher throughput, with ambiguous targets. And when it doesn’t work, people just double down on that because you obviously weren’t doing it right the first time.
This feels a lot like stress.
Stop me if this sounds familiar. You’ve gained a bunch of weight, and no matter what you do it won’t shift. You get anxious at weird times, like when you’re trying to do something simple like cook dinner or walk the dog. Your resting heart rate is up 20 beats a minute despite your exercise regime. You have trouble remembering things, or you can’t focus. You get angry at little things, or maybe you’re generally angry, or you snap easily. You are exhausted. Not just tired, but exhausted, to the point where getting up is hard, but you’re so tired you can’t sleep. And because you’re traveling to different time zones all the time, and/or on a red-eye twice a week or more, your body doesn’t remember what bed time is.
None of this is okay.
The truth is, most of the people I know admit to being anxious or depressed. Most of the people I know. I usually need to tell my story first, and then theirs follows, like it’s a dark secret, like they’re failing the super game of life by feeling this way. There are some who don’t feel this way — if you pointed a gun at me and shouted, “Demographic, motherfucker!” I’d be forced to say that it’s my younger friends who seem to be coping better*.
* Don’t read anything in to this like Millennials are more conditioned or that they don’t work as hard or that they don’t have as much to do or that they’re better at using tech to get by. You pointed a gun at my head, remember? It could just be my unconscious bias of hoping that younger people are better at the game, because we need to get better as a species.
You can always get another job, but you can’t always get a new life partner who loves you with all of their heart, or kids that worship you, or a second chance on our beautiful world after you’re dead.
You Are Your Own Best Savior
If all this is sounding familiar, there are two basic choices in front of you:
1. Keep going the way you are. You’ll die young, but as a result leave a younger, if sallow-and-overweight, corpse.
I think — back to the most-of-the-people-I-know, above — that many people want them both. They want to keep at their job with their good salary and medical insurance and also get change for free, or expect their work to change, or whatever. Because you and I are used to being honest with each other, I’m going to tell you it’s not going to happen. You need to pick one.
Assuming You Picked Change
I don’t know what change looks like for you. For me, it meant leaving the usual office life, and focusing on my dreams and goals (telling better stories). What I can say is what is behind that door. Empirical measures.
- I’ve dropped 7kg (five within the first four weeks of leaving my job — if that doesn’t say fucking cortisol I don’t know what does).
- My resting heart rate has dropped back down to 48 (best in my life was 46, so we’ll call that a win).
- Body fat has dropped 8%. Losing weight and keeping lean muscle mass? Yes please.
Subjective measures are a little more relaxed. People tell me I look five years younger. I feel like I have more energy, although it took a good month to stop feeling exhausted and another couple weeks after that to start being spontaneous and energetic. I remember most of the things I try to. I can focus. I get to see my wife, and friends, and spend time out in the world.
Sure, it’s comes at a drop in salary (if anyone tells you writing pays well they’re either Stephen King or, like me, a fucking liar).
I’m not telling you these things because I want you to be envious, or stab me through the Internet. I’m telling you these things because the friend I mentioned above said people should hear it. They thought it was inspiring (yay), and that hearing it might give you a little more hope. Change is hard, and it feels risky, and a little like you might be throwing away everything you know on a gamble.
It’s not crazy, though. If someone else has done it first, and tells you about it, and … well. Maybe that gives you some courage.
Until next time.